The Historical Society of New Mexico was founded by a group of New Mexico citizens in Santa Fe on December 26, 1859. At their first regular meeting in January 1860 they prepared a list of twenty individuals who were to be offered a honorary membership along with an invitation to correspond with the society. It is astounding that there was only one Spanish name on that list, however it was a prominent one, that of Guadalupe Miranda.
For a quarter of a century Miranda had helped shape New Mexico’s affairs. He was connected with seven New Mexico land grants, most notably with the "Maxwell Grant", had established and surveyed several towns, and was influential in the settlement of the Mesilla valley. Although strictly speaking he was not a surveyor, he came as close to be one as anyone did in New Mexico in those days.
Guadalupe Miranda was born in 1810 in El Paso del Norte (renamed in 1888: Ciudad Juarez), Mexico. In 1825 his parents sent him to the City of Chihuahua, where he received a special education from Dominican and Franciscan friars. In 1829 he went to Santa Fe and operated a private school in the home of Vicar General Don Juan Rafael Rascon. There he taught Spanish grammar, Latin, and philosophy. Although in 1832 he became headmaster of the newly founded Santa Fe Public School, he returned to El Paso del Norte the following year.
In April 1839 he received an appointment as Secretary of the Mexican provincial government in Santa Fe, in the administration of Governor Manuel Armijo. At the same time he also was customs collector on the Arkansas River frontier and soon became Armijo’s private secretary. Guadalupe Miranda was described an impressive six feet tall and weighing 220 lbs. He was handsome, pious, softspoken, and always neatly dressed. Even on dangerous voyages he never carried a gun.
In 1823 a Canadian trader named Charles Hypolite Beaubien had strayed into New Mexico where he was arrested and carted off to Mexico City. To his surprise the Mexican authorities allowed him to return to New Mexico and he went to Taos, where in 1929 he married a local girl and acquired Mexican citizenship. As a merchant in Taos he soon became wealthy, and the local politicians, including Miranda, were welcome and frequent visitors in his home. Beaubien also harbored a dream of colonizing a large tract of land. Doubting that Governor Armijo would consider a grant to anyone of foreign birth, he shrewdly teamed up with Armijo’s private secretary. On January 8, 1841 Beaubien and Miranda petitioned the governor for a joint colonization grant to raise "sugar beets, cotton, and stock of all kinds." Governor Armijo approved within three days.
The fate of the Beaubien and Miranda Grant (commonly but erroneously called "Maxwell Grant") has been amply described elsewhere, notably by William A. Keleher in his: Maxwell Land Grant: A New Mexico Item, (University of New Mexico Press, 1984 reprint). In the anti-American climate that grew out of the ill-fated Texan Santa Fe expedition of 1841 work on the grant languished, and ultimately the grant would prove to be of very small benefit to Miranda (or, for that matter, to Beaubien).
When Governor Armijo fled New Mexico at the approach of Kearny’s Army of the West in 1846, Miranda accompanied him to El Paso del Norte, but he returned to Santa Fe in December 1847 to advise his people not to contest American military superiority. However when Texas extended her territorial claim all the way to the Rio Grande, he successfully wrote patriotic propaganda against the planned takeover, as in fact he had already done in Taos in 1841. In 1849 he was Mexican Vice-Consul in the fledgling town of Franklin (today El Paso, Texas).
At the close of the Mexican War he invested heavily in the Santa Fe and San Antonio overland trade, and in 1851 petitioned and was granted by the Governor of Chihuahua a sitio and three caballerias, (4,656 acres) of land, adjoining the Rio Grande northwest of El Paso where Miranda had a ranch. The Guadalupe Miranda Grant would have straddled the present international boundary, but Miranda lost the title papers, and since the record copies had also become lost or destroyed he sold the grant for a speculative value of five dollars in 1888. The purchaser attempted to sue for title in the Court of Private Land Claims (CPLC) but failed to assemble the necessary documents and the grant was rejected.
After the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo many residents of New Mexico chose to leave the territory rather than live under United States jurisdiction. This was especially true along the Rio Grande north of El Paso, where fear of Texas land policy caused a general flight from the east to the west side of the river, which was believed to remain Mexican territory. Many Americans later accused Miranda of stirring up much of that fear. The Mexican government attempted to assist the settlers by voting relief money, and appointed a Commissioner of Emigration, who was empowered to make resettlement grants and establish new towns.
Initially the appointment went to Ramon Ortiz, parish priest of El Paso del Norte, but when a new administration took office in Mexico City in April 1853 Ortiz was removed from office and Guadalupe Miranda was appointed as his successor. There was an urgent need for action and commissioner Miranda that same year made the Barela, Jose Manuel Sanchez Baca, Sanchez, and Santo Tomas de Yturbide Grants, totaling almost 22,000 acres, the boundaries of which he surveyed. The Barela Grant as well as the Sanchez Grant was later rejected by CPLC on the grounds that Miranda had no authority to make grants to individual citizens.
The Mesilla Civil Colony Grant had initially been made by Ramon Ortiz in 1852, but because of squabbles between the inhabitants Miranda divided the grant into the Mesilla Civil Colony and Santo Tomas de Yturbide Grants. He surveyed the boundaries and then subdivided the grants into tracts for common use as well as lots for individual settlers. In the process he allocated land and layed out the towns of Mesilla, Santo Tomas, Picacho, Guadalupe, and San Ygnacio.
When the American flag was raised in the plaza of Mesilla as a result of the Gadsden Purchase, the intensely patriotic Miranda returned to Mexico in bitter disappointment. His work seemed to have gone for naught, and in February 1858 he wrote in a letter to Charles Beaubien: "…Thrust out from my country, a portion of my property abandoned, and the rest…at the disposition of my enemies, my resources have been reduced to such a degree that today, in order to maintain my numerous family, I find myself obliged to dispose of that which remains to me…" Also in that letter he empowered his son Pablo to sell his one half interest in the huge "Maxwell Grant", for which the latter obtained a paltry 2,745 dollars. Had he waited ten years and sold out when Maxwell did, his share of the proceeds would have been 325,000 dollars.
As a lifelong supporter of the discredited and in 1855 exiled Mexican President Santa Anna, Guadalupe Miranda’s political career was in ruins. In 1877, during one of the many periods of political unrest, he served briefly as mayor of Paso del Norte. He spent the last years of his life as a businessman there and in Chihuahua City, where he died in about 1890.